Friday, September 14, 2018

Full circle returning to rhythm

This summer was an interesting one when I rented an alto saxophone and studied it for three months. I got inspired to try a new band instrument after seeing a band from the local senior center play. There were about 12 saxophones and I thought it would be fun to try it.  Well, it was interesting but it did not "take" for me. Seemed that once I got to a certain level, a new and bigger challenge would emerge.  For instance, when I worked on learning to play, "Over the Rainbow," I found it hard because the melody flows slowly and without a break. For a wind player, that means having to have a lot of breath control to play a long flowing series of notes without stopping to take a breath.

I loved the novelty that opened opportunities for musical growth for me. However, I came to see that practicing alone in my living room was not what I had in mind. I realized it would take me months to be good enough to join an ensemble. So this led me back to where I started 45 years ago playing percussion in high school band! Somehow I didn't think I'd end up here but here I am.

I have joined a beginners wind band ensemble at our senior center in town and last week was our first rehearsal. I loved the challenge of it and it was a lot of fun to me. I knew I'd make mistakes and the conductor had a lot to say regarding my tendency to rush the tempo or to tense up. "Relax, slow down. " Sound familiar? It's not that I feel I have trouble slowing down but it's true when in a new experience, I do tend to get a little tense. I am enjoying practicing slowing down and relaxing back into being a drummer again. It is something I never forgot and holding those sticks in my hand and playing with the recordings on YouTube.  It's going to be fun. We're practicing for our concert in December.

I once said to myself, "The secret to being a master is the willingness to be a beginner over and over again. " I find that is true. I love to read music and to be challenged.

What's on your music stand these days?

Friday, July 13, 2018

The gift of music

The last time here, I told you about my meeting a new friend at a nursing home who gave me a pretty shirt? I visited her yesterday and she again opened her closet and insisted I take this shirt pictured here. I brought her three old songbooks I was not using and figured it made a good trade.

 She was delighted with the songbooks and went up and down the hall showing all of her friends. There was a Lennon & McCartney Collection and 2 Greatest Hits of the 60s and 70s. I was not surprised when we took them to the piano and she was able to play many of the songs on the fly. They were not easy songs! We had fun playing and singing together for the other residents. I wonder what our next visit will bring?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

An unexpected gift

Today I paid a musical visit to a local assisted living center. When I walked in the door, I was greeted by a woman who was playing the piano. She asked me if I was going to play too and I said we could play together. She liked this idea but the only songbook she had was a Christmas book. 

We played "Silent Night" and our best was, "What Child is This." She did not seem to notice they were Christmas songs and no one else seemed to mind either  Then she invited me to come and see her room. I was impressed when I saw she had decorated her tiny room with coloring pages she had done. Her room was tidy and very charming. 

We sat and visited awhile and at one point she asked me if I'd like to see her clothes. When she opened her closet, there was nothing in it except for about two dozen blouses hanging on the rack. (no clutter or possessions on the floor) When I complimented a pretty blue and yellow sun and moon shirt (pictured above), she took it out and said, "You can have it!" I tried to tell her that I could not take something from her but she insisted. I was so touched by this woman who had so little and wanted to give me something. It sure brightened my day to meet her!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me?

I work on weekends at a nursing home in town and bring my guitar and go room to room to sing. I am always richly rewarded by the responses I get. There is a resident who is severely disabled and bedridden. All of the times I have been in her room, she was hooked up to a ventilator and not conscious. So I was surprised today when I went to her room and she was awake.

 As I got out my guitar, I saw she moved to try to turn the TV off. She appears paralyzed or at least extremely limited mobility. I asked her If she wanted me to turn the TV off and she mouthed the word, "please." She is unable to talk as she has a trachea in her throat. When I started to play my guitar, she watched me with a curious expression. I was trying to find a song that she would connect with. Since she is black, I sang some spirituals but she did not appear to recognize them. I guessed her age to be early 60s but none of the songs of that era seemed to strike a chord. So I looked around her room to gain clues about what kind of songs would resonate. Sometimes residents have a Bible or a picture of Jesus or Mary and that helps me to know they would like hymns. In her room, she was surrounded by Mickey Mouse things. She had a Mickey Mouse clock on the wall and was covered with a Mickey Mouse blanket. On the floor next to her bed, I found a Minnie Mouse doll.  I picked up Minnie Mouse and asked her if she wanted her in the bed with her. She nodded yes. Then I got the idea, judging by her facial expressions that she probably had some brain damage or developmental disability.  I got the inspiration to start talking to her through Minnie Mouse. I made my voice like Minnie's and I sang to her the Mickey Mouse TV theme song. 

"Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, Mickey Mouse! Mickey Mouse!"  

She smiled and brightened with this! I saw I was onto to something. I kept singing and talking to her with Minnie in my hand and even had Minnie do a little dance for her. When it was time to go, I put Minnie into her arms and she held out her hand and I took her hand in both of mine and thanked her for letting me come and visit her. I told her I really enjoyed singing with her. We stayed holding hands for awhile. I was so moved by this experience! I have worked there nearly a year and never knew she could communicate at all. I will make sure I go see her all the time now.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

We've Got the Whole Earth in Our Hands

Today I enjoyed teaching nature themed songs at Wildrock nature center in Crozet. This is a great place way out beyond the town where there is not even reception on your cell phone.  Good to feel off the grid for awhile and play outside. This place has lots of play areas indoors too for kids to explore. They have educational areas to teach about animal life in the wilderness and a botanical area, camping gear to on display, magical forests. Outside you can hike to the stream or walk the labyrinth or play and dance on the stage or go fishing. There are lots of animals around too. Sheep, horses, cows, frogs, fox, deer and probably bears out there too.

There were groups of 1st and 2nd graders that came on a field trip there and I taught them some of my favorite Native America songs. How about:

"The Earth is our mother, we must take care of her 2x
Hey yanna, ho yanna, hey yon yon..."

Or from the Lakota tribe:

"I am one with the infinite sun
forever and ever and ever
keyo teh leno leno maho teh
heino heino heino."

We talked about caring for the environment and things we could do to help. Things like reusing things instead of throwing away and recycling.

I sang them some songs about recycling:

"We've been working on recycling (to the tune of "I've Been Workin on the Railroad"
all the trash we can
we've been working on recycling
it's a very simple plan..." etc.

We then talked about camping out and being out in nature and singing campfire songs. The children taught me some new ones and I taught them some of our old ones we sang as a child. Songs like, "Old MacDonald," and "Bingo."

It was a fun time!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

We all live in a yellow submarine...

I love my work playing for patients at the hospital. Each patient is unique with varied circumstances that require a unique musical prescription. Since I primarily play for ICU patients, most of them are too ill to respond or speak or acknowledge me in any way. I sit by their bedside and watch their responses register on the monitors as I weave improvised melodies or my own compositions. Since they are unable to speak, I rarely play a piece that would be familiar to them since I would not know if it could be linked with a emotionally charged memory. (Cannot afford to tap into a negative memory when they are so ill) Instead, I seek to bring down their heart rate and stabilize their pulse using soothing melodic phrases made up just for them.  If you think of the music like a food, then you can imagine I try to play them a musical elixir or broth that is easy to digest. 

Every now and then though, I meet a patient in different circumstances that call for upbeat songs.  That was the case today when I walked into the room of a woman who was awake and receptive to the music. We immediately struck up a lively conversation about music and artists she loved. Linda Ronstadt, Aaron Neville, Johnny Cash to name a few. Her mother used to play the guitar, so she was really excited that I also played it. 

Since she was the age of someone who would likely appreciate The Beatles, I played for her, "Here Comes the Sun." She instantly brightened and sang along. Then she requested,  "Yellow Submarine."  I played what I remembered of the song and she burst into tears, saying that her mother (now deceased) used to sing her that song when she was a child. I then played her one of my own compositions, "Choose the Sky" and she got the idea to video tape me so that she could show her daughters. After my song, she requested I play, "Yellow Submarine" again and got the idea to improvise my own lyrics to the verses based on things she told me. I sang:

"Now your mamma used to sing this song to you, when you were young
and we sing it here again so that everyone can sing along
We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine…" etc…

When we finished singing together, she put her camera down and threw open her arms and we hugged for a long time as she cried. She said, "That brought me so much peace!"  You helped me so much!" 

What she does not know is that she also helped me so much. It is not often I have people like her who are so responsive to the music. What she did not know is that I purposely went in to work today because I had troubles of my own I wanted to put aside. My favorite way of helping myself get through a rough patch is to do something for someone else. For that whole time I was with this woman and sharing our stories and music, we both were able to put our troubles aside. I also know my own "troubles" pale in comparison and I left feeling so grateful not only for all that I do have but the gift she gave me of feeling I was helpful. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"I needed you."

When I tell people I work at the hospital (U.VA), I am often asked, "Isn't that a depressing place to be?" and the answer is No! It is not depressing at all. It is because it is such an honor to be with people during what could be the hardest times in their lives. Because of this, there is no time to waste with superficial conversations. We get right to the core of our being. When I walk into their room, I am a stranger. But when I get out my guitar and start to play music, all barriers between us are lifted. Here is a story from yesterday:

I was playing in the medical ICU and going from room to room to see what patients might benefit from soothing instrumental guitar music. Sometimes patients say no because they have a visitor or maybe they are asleep or for some reason I can't play for them.

As I was passing by a room, a female patient waved to me and smiled and asked me to come in her room. I went to her and she was in the middle of eating her lunch. I told her some about what I do and said if she'd like to listen to music, she can even fall asleep if she wants to- there is nothing she needs to do.

I told her how music can help bring down the heart rate and relax a patient and we talked about how being in pain and being ill can really be a stressful situation and one that causes a lot of anxiety and worry. We talked about how music can ease our worried mind and remind us there is hope and beauty and love in the world, that all will be ok.

Eventually, our conversation waned and the woman said, "I'll let you choose whatever piece of music you think is best for my situation." I told her, "I will play you my favorite piece I like to play right now. It is a classical piece called, "Pachelbel Canon."

When I began to play, she pushed her food tray out of the way and easesd back in her bed and closed her eyes. As I played,  she smiled and a serene expression came over her face. She appeared to be very happy and peaceful as she listened. In all my 14 years of playing for patients, I have to say that she was one of the most appreciative of any patient I had ever played for. She listened as if savoring every nuance and note I played.  I saw her heart rate come down.

When I finished, she said, "Thank you so much!! I feel like now I am so relaxed I can take a nap. " I encouraged her to do that (I was getting ready to go home anyway after my session with her.).  She said, "I am so happy you came to see me today. " Then I said that I almost didn't come to the hospital because it was supposed to be my day off. She said, "You needed to be here because I needed you. " I said I needed her too, that meeting her was good for me too and we helped each other. Then she opened her arms and I leaned over to give her a hug. What an honor to have been the recipient of such deep appreciation. Today I am going back. Will see who I meet today!

Thanks for coming by!